Great weather brings biggest crowd ever to Shakori Hills

by Ryan Snyder

Early indications point to the largest crowd ever to attend the Shakori Hills Grass Roots Festival in Silk Hope, as clear skies and warm weather made for ideal picking conditions. That said, here’s a rundown of the events between my arrival Friday afternoon and departure Sunday evening. Mamadou Diabate was hypnotic as the daylight hours wound down slowly. His prodigious kora picking could have sent me to sleep if my energy level wasn’t already bursting from my arrival only a short time before. For a guy whose music might be called gimmicky by some, I could never get tired of seeing Todd Snider perform. There are plenty of great singer/songwriters on the alt-country circuit, but few, if any, could send me into a crippling fit of laughter like him. Just ask him yourself and he’ll tell you that he thinks he’s an “Alright Guy,” but his cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” made a less humble claim. The irony of his hippie-loving attitude and his green Lacoste sweater vest that made him look like an unemployed, 45-year old former frat boy was breathtaking. Jim Lauderdale seriously has more talent than he knows what to do with. On top of being a brilliant songwriter, the man can change direction on stage faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. His swing from electric rodeo blues to lonesome country balladry during his Friday night show happened in the blink of an eye. Not to mention that his pink and black suit with bolo tie was one of the coolest get-ups I’ve seen. Speaking of Lauderdale, his Saturday afternoon songwriting workshop on the front porch of the house was one of my favorite moments all weekend. That’s not even because of the 40-odd people who pulled the Shakori Hills fire truck out of the mud right in front of us (maybe its engine should be gauged in hippiepower rather than horsepower). The number of musicians playing the festival who came to hear him speak is a testament to his stature in that community, and I’m almost sure that that was former Dillon Fence and current Hobex frontman Greg Humphries among them. Speaking of Humphries, I was disappointed that I missed his Thursday afternoon show with Hobex after hearing that pal Gibb Droll stopped by to take over on guitar. That was rectified on Friday night, however, as I happened upon Humphries solo set at the Cabaret Tent just as Droll took the stage with him once again. Some of the old timers in the crowd may not have been prepared for what transpired Friday night at around 10 p.m. Non-English speaker Rachid Taha and his band gave an unbelievable performance before arguably the largest crowd of any show the entire weekend. The Middle Eastern electro-psychedelia was a severe departure from the old-time string music that populates the festival, but those who witnessed it won’t soon forget it. Those who also saw him the previous night in Durham will probably be fans forever. Taha had apparently gotten into Tom Riccio’s mash stash, because he was staggering all over the stage, but that didn’t stop his band from laying down some of the most intense grooves of the entire weekend. After an incredible cover of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” to close out their set, Taha reemerged with the stage emcee asking if the audience wanted to hear one more. Taha took a step back and promptly planted himself on his back. When his band rushed over to check on him, bassist Jean-Marie Brichard’s huge grin hinted at Taha’s condition. To help everyone forget about what happened, Taha and his band went beyond the call of duty and broke out another three songs. As was mentioned in last week’s Artist of the Week column, the Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins likes to check out the crowd beforehand when crafting his set lists. After being worn out by Taha, Haskins decided to go for the kill with a powerful set that went past 1 a.m. Luckily no fire marshals were on hand, otherwise his set might have gotten shut down during “Papers in Order,” as half of his audience came on stage to boogie down. I want to know what the guy just standing next to Haskins with his hands in his pockets thought he was doing though…. Some of the traditionalists in the audience took umbrage with the New Familiars switch to country rock, but their cover of the Stones’ “Loving Cup” says that they’ve found the right sound. Former Biscuit Burner Shannon Whitworth was courteous in asking permission to crank up the volume, but the way she sang “Taking It Hard” made one think it’s about more than a break-up. Props go to the organizers for making this such a kid-friendly event. It was hilarious to see roving gangs of them armed with toy swords led by volunteers charge each other Braveheart-style. Apparently, mandatory covers of the Rolling Stones were stipulated in performance contracts, as Zydeco guru Keith Frank played a sweet rendition of “Beast of Burden” set to the music of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.” Two of the best voices at the festival had competing sets Saturday night. Aimee Argote of Des Ark gave a mesmerizing solo performance on the main stage, while Amy LaVere massaged her upright bass and sang about “Pointless Drinking.” If I’m not mistaken, she wrote that song in tribute to my student loan debt. If they gave out awards for festival MVPs, this year’s trophy would go to the Red Hots in a landslide. After a smoking late-night barn dance than went almost until sunup, they were back at it at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning with members of Donna the Buffalo. Banjo man Tom Riccio singlehandedly bailed out the corn squeezin’ industry with his consumption and his satisfied growls were reflected in the audience’s stomping feet. Jim Lauderdale reappeared with his guitar just around the time Shannon Whitworth’s Sunday set closed out, undoubtedly to take the stage with Ralph Stanley and Donna the Buffalo. There was nothing at all subtle about Stanley’s entrance, as his colossal tour bus rolled down the narrow roads in the middle of the Woodwork Roadshow’s set and parked right beside the main stage. The cancelation of Justin Townes Earle made it difficult for me to justify staying through to the jam at the end, especially with a hot shower calling. Reggae group the Overtakers were having visa issues and couldn’t leave the country, so they filled the time between Stanley and Donna & Friends. It was an idyllic weekend aside from the spring tick infestation and a few campsites shaken down for unsecured goods, but vigilance on both accounts assured everyone a good time.

(top) Alt-country maven Jim Lauderdale talks shop during his Saturday songwriting clinic.

(left) Des Ark’s Aimee Argote tunes up during an intimate solo performance Saturday night.

(below) “Alright Guy” Todd Snider wishes for a “B-double-E-double-are-you-in?”

(bottom) The Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins leads Friday night’s late-night dance party on the main stage.